Oct 26, 2010
Highly underrated as a musical constructionist, Alec Wilder was a drinking buddy of singers like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they adored his songs. A fan of crossword puzzles, he allowed that passion to spill over as he wrote his material, always looking for a link or connection for the melody and bridge. He's too often overlooked when we talk about great American popular songwriters, so today we'll take a closer look at his work.
He wrote at least two popular songs that deserve standard status – “I’ll Be Around” and “While We’re Young”. In addition, he wrote film and television music, and composed a number of classical pieces, including full-blown operas. Near the end of his life he published American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950, a tome still regarded as an essential text.
Click here to listen to the podcast, featuring Wilder tunes as perforemd by:
Tony Bennett & Bill Evans – “A Child is Born” from Together Again. Perhaps the most dynamic collaboration between a classic singer and a classic pianist ever recorded, the Bennett-Evans sessions (since re-released in a complete and highly annotated two-disc set) allow two masters to explore a Wilder classic.
Roger Cairns and Gary Fukushima – “Blackberry Winter” from The Dream of Olwen. Another duo presentation, from the Scots-born singer and his partner Gary, an in-demand pianist in the LA jazz scene. The song is written by Wilder and Loonis McGlothen, and first recorded by Keith Jarrett on his Bop-Be album in 1977.
Keith Jarrett – “While We’re Young” from At the Blue Note: The Complete Live Recordings. And speaking of Keith Jarrett, here’s the man himself on a Wilder-Palitz-Engvick composition that crooners from Peggy Lee to Johnny Hartman to Jackie Paris have recorded. The trio for this 1994 concert is Jarrett on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Gary Peacock on bass.
Frank Sinatra – “I’ll Be Around” from In the Wee Small Hours. Sinatra had a great personal relationship with Wilder, and asked the composer to write him some “saloon songs”. This one had been written for the Mills Brothers a decade before, but Ol’ Blue Eyes makes it uniquely his own.
Annie Kozuch – “Who Can I Turn To” from
You. Raised in Mexico City, Ms. Kozuch mixes the Great American
Songbook with her Jazz and Latin background with great success
(check out the Spanish version of “Somos Novios”, which was later
translated into English as the popular “It’s Impossible”). Her band
is led by pianist Frank Ponzio.
band band is led by band is led by pianist Frank Ponzio.